During the first week of June, 2020, U.S. Engineering CEO Tyler Nottberg and President Tim Moormeier distributed these messages to all of our team members regarding racial injustice in our society. Given the complexity of this issue, and the ongoing pain and suffering that we continue to see play out in our local communities and nationally, we have decided to share these messages publicly in an effort to contribute to the discussion. This is, admittedly, a small step. Action always speaks louder than words. However, everyone has a role to play. Organizations and individuals must both contribute, so here is one contribution from the week of June 1st.
As a friend of mine eloquently put it to me earlier this week, white privilege doesn’t mean your life hasn’t been hard. It just means your skin tone isn’t the reason it’s been hard. My experience growing up in America has been much different than the experience of black team members, friends, and their families. And it goes beyond the headlines, right to the privilege of being able to walk into a store and not experience the indignity of eyes focusing on me as I browse the aisles.
It’s easy to condemn the killing of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, but it’s difficult to answer the question of why we must keep doing the condemning—over and over and over again. Racism is insidious. It’s not just an action taken or a thoughtless remark. It’s the structure of our society—built up over hundreds of years, enshrined in laws, and now reflected in the condition of populations. For example, my work with the C19KC Task Force and ComebackKC has shown how much punishment black communities have taken from COVID-19. In Wyandotte County, KS, black people represent 53% of the COVID-19 deaths but make up just 23% of the population. Those outcomes might not be an intentional result of something done today, but they’re not just coincidence.
Racial bias and the marginalization of minorities of all types has been part of the structure of our country for so long. Each of us has implicit biases that shape our thoughts and actions. Are we aware of them or unaware? Is this the moment in time where we can come together to make lasting changes? It starts when we look at ourselves first. If you’re truly interested in something you can do as an individual, I’d encourage you to learn more about implicit bias. To be clear, I have blind spots, just like everybody else. I make mistakes, but along the way I do my best to learn from them—to continually educate myself and be as self-aware as possible.
Leigh (Nottberg) and I have had the chance to work with the GreenLight Fund in Kansas City, and I was able to participate in racial equity training led by Stephenie and Rodney Smith of Sophic Solutions. I’m endlessly grateful for their leadership and wanted to share a list of anti-racism resources they provided to those of us on the GreenLight Advisory Council. Whether we emerge from this moment better people and a better society depends on the actions we take, not just the words we speak.
Finally, to everyone in our organization who is directly feeling the pain of racism, I want you to know that U.S. Engineering leadership stands with you. You have our support, and you have the space to express your feelings and concerns with us. I clearly can’t sit here and speak for our black community, but I was forwarded this article by a friend that explained the difficulty many of the people you’re working with might be experiencing right now.
I must address the pain that our nation is feeling. With the backdrop of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, our country is reeling from the killing of George Floyd, continued racism and, ultimately, fear. I am deeply saddened by what I see. As a nation, a company, a community, a family; we must find a way to end racial discrimination and the pain so many are experiencing because of it. I don’t have all the answers, but I do know that we cannot do anything until we acknowledge there is an issue. We must be honest with ourselves. And we must want change.
One of my favorite authors, Mitch Albom, shared his thoughts over the weekend. The article resonated with me, and I encourage you to read it. I offer this not because it’s an easy read; it’s actually quite the opposite. The title alone puts a pit in my stomach, “…His last words should haunt us all.” Albom, like me, is a white male. The two of us cannot possibly have the perspective to truly understand. However, one thing that everyone can do is show compassion. Right now, we need compassion and togetherness more than ever, but division seems to be frustratingly victorious at the moment. It doesn’t have to be, and you have the option to personally decide to let compassion triumph.
At U.S. Engineering, we have a Mission to “Leave a Legacy.” That statement is intentionally open-ended. Yes, we want to set the standard for the mechanical service and construction industry and help our communities through the work we do. But our legacy is also defined by the way we live within our communities, by the way we interact with and accept each other. In recent months, as the pandemic started to spread, our organization adopted the phrase, “We Stand Ready.” But we can only truly stand ready if “We Stand Together”—if we choose compassion.
For those feeling pain, please know that you are not alone. As an organization, U.S. Engineering does choose compassion, and we do stand with you. If you’re hurting, talk to someone and find comfort and healing. One resource that is free for U.S. Engineering team members is our EAP partner, New Directions.